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THEFT CHARGE UPSETS DISABLED FUND-RAISER

Despite being wheelchair-bound himself, Kem Hearne has spent years traveling the state raising money for other disabled or sick people.

One of those who hoped to benefit from Hearne's seemingly selfless efforts was 10-year-old Corey Mueller, who suffered from a blood disease and needed a liver transplant.Five years after meeting and working with Hearne, the Muellers say they have yet to see any of the money raised by Hearne.

Tuesday afternoon Hearne was charged with one count of unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary, a third degree felony, and one felony and three misdemeanor counts of theft by deception.

The felony theft charge stems from a $2,000 donation by Utah Jazz All-Star Karl Malone. Malone's canceled check was key to the case investigators put together against Hearne.

But Hearne is incensed by the charges and subsequent media coverage, saying he has proof that will come in court that he did not keep Malone's money for himself.

"I'm outraged that Corey didn't get the money. I don't know where it is or what happened," he said.

Furthermore, Hearne believes "the entire state owes me an apology and a week's worth of TV and newspaper coverage clearing my good name."

Francine Giani, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, said her office has fielded complaints about Hearne's fund- raising efforts for years. Last year investigators started an in-depth look into the allegations against the wheelchair-bound athlete and they say they found evidence to support the claims.

"As we got deeper and deeper into it, we began to find that things were indeed amiss," Giani said. After news of the charges against Hearne went public, more people came forward with new complaints.

"We've received several calls this morning," she said, Wednesday. Giani said Hearne would attend events like the State Fair, rodeos, religious gatherings and ask for money for people like Corey.

"There was only one missing component," Giani said, "and that was the money."

In Corey's case, his mother Carmin Mueller said that they'd set up an account for donations with the American Liver Foundation. But Hearne told them he wanted to keep track of the money himself to see how much he raised for the then 5-year-old boy, Carmen Mueller said.

Grateful for his help, the Muellers didn't question him. Carmin Mueller said Hearne took her son to the State Fair, to a parade in Bountiful and to a rodeo in a small town.

She knows of about $2,200 that was raised for her son but says she's never received any money.

Hearne says he knows the Muellers received at least $100 because he or his mother personally handed them the cash. "People asked me to do things for Corey. I didn't campaign for it and I didn't gain money from it."

He says he is "being framed into something I didn't do" but refuses to discuss the specifics of that allegation, saying only that evidence will emerge in court.

Carmin Mueller has learned that many of the people and organizations who raise money for a living keep part of the donations for themselves.

"Nobody that offers help (does it) for nothing," Mueller said.

She said Hearne continued to use Corey in fund-raising efforts even after Hearne told the family an accident had left him totally paralyzed and unable to help raise money for Corey's transplant.

"(What he did) It was crummy," Mueller said. "To do this to kids, that's just sick."

Hearne maintains his innocence and laments what the charges and attention has done to his relationship with thousands of Utah schoolchildren.

"I've been all over the state sending positive messages to young people, kids in trouble, kids who wouldn't talk about their problems to even cops. It hurts me. I love Corey . . . I still care about him and his future."